Babies, toddlers and children all go through various stages when it come to learning language. Here is a list of things you can look for with your own child(ren). Please remember that these are averages. However, if you have any concern with regards to your child’s language development please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. You can go to the Resources page for more information.
Language Development: Milestones
Birth to 6 Month
- turns to source of sound
- startles in response to loud and sudden noises
- watches speakers face
- smiles and laughs in response to speakers smiles and laughs
- imitates coughs or other early vocalizations (e.g. ah, eh, buh)
6 to 12 Months
- responds to name
- responds to common sounds (e.g. phone ringing, doorbell)
- understands being told “no”
- gets basic needs met through gesturing (e.g. lifting arms up to be picked up)
- plays social games (e.g. peek-a-boo)
- babbles and repeats sounds (e.g. babababa, duhduhduh)
- follows simple one step directions (e.g. sit down) – this happens closer to 12 months
- looks across room to something being pointed at
- uses 2-3 words (not necessarily clear) – by approximately 12 months
- uses some gestures socially (e.g. waving “bye”, shaking head “no”, blowing a kiss)
- gets caregivers attention using sounds, gestures and pointing while making eye contact
- brings toys to show you
- “performs” for attention and praise
- By 12 months combines variety of sounds to sound like “talking” (e.g. abada duhba abee)
- shows interest in simple picture books
12 to 18 Months
- understands basic concepts “in” and “out”, “off” and “on”
- points to several body parts when asked (e.g. nose, eyes, ears, mouth, hair, hands, feet, belly)
- uses approximately 20 words (around 18 months)
- responds to simple questions with words and/or gestures (e.g. “where is the ball?” “what’s that?”)
- demonstrates simple pretend play (e.g. gives doll a drink, feeds bear)
- makes at least 4 different consonant sounds (e.g. b, p, m, n, d, w, h)
- enjoys being read to and looks through simple books with caregiver
- points to pictures using one finger
18 to 24 Months
- follows two-step directions (e.g. “go find the ball and bring it to dad”)
- uses at least 2 pronouns (e.g. mine, me, you, my)
- uses 100+ words (by 24 months)
- consistently combines words into 2 or more word phrases (e.g. “daddy shoe”, “car go up”)
- enjoys being with others
- begins offering toys to peers and imitates peers actions/words
- holds books right way up and turns pages
- pretends to “read”
- unfamiliar listeners can understand approximately 50-60% of child’s words
24 to 36 Months
- Understands differences in meaning (e.g. “go-stop”, “in-on”, “big-little”)
- Enjoys listening to books for longer periods of time
- Has a word for almost everything in their environment
- Speech becomes clearer (by age 3, 75% of speech should be understood by an unfamiliar listener)
- Asks “why”
- By 36 months language contains grammar (not always correct) and sentences take on a more “adult” form.
3 to 4 Years
- Hears when you call them from another room
- Listens to TV/Radio at same loudness level as others
- Recognizes 2-3 colors (e.g. red, blue, green)
- Recognizes a few basic shapes (e.g. square, circle, triangle)
- Tells small stories using approximately 4 sentences
- Unfamiliar listeners understand approximately 90% of child’s speech (by age 4)
- Answers simple questions (e.g. “who is coming over?”, “where is the ball?”, “what is that?”)
- Asks “when” and “how”
- Starts making basic rhymes (e.g. “hat-cat”, “mitt-sit”)
- Uses more pronouns including “I, you, me, we and they”
- Uses some simple plurals (e.g. birds, shoes, trees)
- Majority of sentences contain 4+ words
I definitely haven’t covered everything here, but this should give you a general idea about the stages infants, toddlers and children go through with regards to language development. I also haven’t covered the stages beyond the age of 4. There is a wealth of information online if you are looking for language development after the age of 4.
I am a home day care provider of 25 years and I have read several questions that parents have posed to you and I love the information you have given them. I too had 3 children and my middle child was termed speech delayed. Due to recurrent ear infections it did play a part in me as his Mom being able to understand him. and they say if anyone is going to understand their child it’s the Mom. Well he was taken into the Preschool Speech and Language Program in our town and I thank my lucky stars that he had a wonderful Speech Pathologist. She let me sit in on his one on one sessions when learning the sounds that the letters make and the different ways to remember where your tongue is supposed to be. Like “L” put your tongue upstairs and “H” feel the air on your hand, etc. My Son turned out beautifully and thanks to the Speech Pathologist I have carried these lessons through to my day care children of 25 years. And yes early intervention is the key. Thank you for taking the time to read my message. I truly have enjoyed reading your posts to parents.
Thank you for your comment Karen! You are right, mothers (and parents in general) typically understand their child despite others having difficulty. This is often why parents don’t take their young child for a speech assessment. I am happy to hear that you did take your son to see someone. That is the best thing a parent can do for their child. I hope that other parents will read your comment!
I just stumbled upon this great website while searching the speech delays. My daughter is 21 months and only speaks words that start with m (mama, mo/ma if the word is long,or m for a museum), b (baba, or ba, almost for every word that has a ba syllable at the beginning/ middle/end of the word), d, n. No back sounds like k, h, g. All words are the same one syllable (like maMA, paPa, dyaDya, baBa). These are her main words (we speak only Russian language at home, she hears English everywhere else, or listens Englush nursery rhymes). Other than the speech articulation delay she is completely normal, understands, signs of she wants something, plays, tries to communicate with her play mates (but it sounds like aaaaa, bababa). She wasn’t a talker when she was a baby as well. We did schedule a speech pathologist appointment,but I wonder if there is anything I can do/play/talk with her to at least start saying 2 different syllable words or back sounds. Thank you
I’m happy to hear that you have made an appointment with a speech language pathologist. That is the best thing you can do at this point.
Have you had your daughter’s hearing checked? I know you mentioned that she understands, but even a slight hearing loss in a young child can affect their ability to produce sound variations.
Is she able to imitate you when you make a sound, even a simple one that you know she can do? Try saying “dadada” while looking at her and see if she tries to imitate you.
There can be a lot of different reasons as to why your daughter is having a hard time producing a variety of sounds and this is what a speech pathologist will be able to help you with.
Sorry that I am not able to give you more answers.
All the best!
And, if you are willing, perhaps you can come back and leave a follow up comment (or send me a private message to tanya(at)seemeandliz.com) once you have met with the speech pathologist.
My daughter is 21 months. She knows a handful of words; mama, Dada, bye, HI, eyes, nose, doggy, I alright, can point to her eyes, nose and mouth, Asks how u doing, but won’t say juice or milk, or cup. She would say I boo boo to let us know she’s used the bathroom but hasn’t in a few weeks. She points to things and gets frustrated. She also babbles and sings the eieio part of old Mcdonald, she say ready set, go Should I be concerned?
It sounds like your daughter is most likely a “late talker.” I wouldn’t worry too much, however, I would recommend having a speech-language evaluation done for her. More than likely, the speech therapist will recommend a home program/parent training. If this is the case you will be given ideas and tips to help your daughter at home. Many private insurance programs cover speech-language assessments and therapy, however, there are many publicly funded programs available for children under the age of 3. You can ask your doctor or do a google search to see what is available in your area. Keep in mind that publicly funded programs will have long waitlists.
I hope this helps.
Hi – thanks for this. I read the article you recommended on ear tubes with interest. I hope that is not the case but I certainly want my daughter to develop to her potential and would hate a hearing loss to hold her back.
She has had a couple of ear infections so if her language doesn’t develop, I will definitely get that checked at our next appointment.
Hopefully like you say, that is not necessary and her babbling will turn into words soon enough!
No there isn’t a second language in the house – although I wanted to ask, regardless of that, when IS the best time to introduce a child to a second language if you want them to be bilingual – and as fluent as possible. And does it need to come from the parents knowledge of the language or can parents who are not completely fluent in a second language still help that process?
It is good for parents to have as much information as possible regarding child developmental milestones so that they can be proactive where their kids are concerned. However, at the same time you don’t want this information to overwhelm you and make you worry about everything. Just keep talking to your daughter and exposing her to new words and experiences. And if you continue to be concerned then absolutely have her assessed. I always say it is better to have a child assessed then to wait it out.
As for a second language, this can be introduced at any time. Bilingual families start speaking two languages to their children right from birth. It does get harder for a child to learn a second language as they get older but it’s not impossible. Adults learn additional languages all the time, however it will take more time and effort to do so. If the language you plan to teach your child is not your native language then it could also take longer.
The only time I would not recommend teaching an additional language to a child (especially if this language is not native to either parent) is if the child is struggling in their primary language.
I hope this all makes sense. Let me know if you have any other questions.
I have a (nearly) 14 month old daughter who is very advanced according to these milestones you give here – particularly relating to her physical development. She was crawling at four months, pulled herself up on furniture 2 weeks later, and cruising furniture by 5 months, then she walked around the 8 month mark. She is running, dancing etc.
Language, however, is different. She understands well – I know from her reactions and responses to us. So I can tell her to go and get the ball or to hold mummy’s hand and she will understand (because she does it!) but she is spending a lot of time screaming or making noises which sound frustrated rather than speaking specific words. She does make sounds but for example she makes a noise like “doy” which I take to mean “look” because she says it as she points at something or someone and she seems to be getting close to “mummy” and “daddy” but only just! Is this normal at her age and is there something I can be doing to help her develop those language skills?
Thank you for your comment. As I stated in the the “About” section, I can’t really give advice about your daughter’s language development since I am no longer a registered speech therapist, but hopefully I can help you out somewhat.
Since your daughter is excelling on the physical side of development I can see why her language may be a bit behind. Children usually focus on one thing over another. This is why some boys tend to speak later than girls. They focus on the physical while girls tend to be more verbal. But it is not always this way, as is the case with your daughter.
The fact that she understands you and is able to follow directions is a good sign. It also appears as if she is starting to try and say some words. I would keep labeling objects she knows as well as introducing new ones. You will sound like a broken record (to yourself) but it will benefit your daughter. Are you speaking more than one language at home? If so, this can contribute to a slight speech delay while she tries to figure out multiple languages.
If by 18 months she does not have between 20-30 words, I would suggest you have her evaluated by a speech therapist. The speech therapist may suggest your have her hearing checked as well. I would always recommend this. If you haven’t had a chance to read it might give you some good information about how to tell if your child may have issues with hearing.
I see that you have commented on a few other posts, so I will answer some more of your questions in response to those comments.
What a brilliant site! Especially for new parents! Love what you are doing here! Thanks for all these great information about how children develop language.
Thank you! I am glad that you are finding the information helpful. Please make sure to share it with any other parents of young children you know!